Vivekananda at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago

Rajesh Pathak
7 Min Read
Parliament of World Religions in Chicago

In history wherever missionaries went to spread Christianity and, also, to pave the way for their ruling overlords at home intending to lay control over its [foreign land] power and its resources, they[missionaries] and a section of scholars inspired by them invented a theory which world knows as ‘White man’s burden theory’. Since India had also been a part of the ‘mission’ they indulged in establishing in the eyes of the world that this country is half-civilized, a country of snake charmers; its religious scriptures and their masters, likewise, lack wisdom. And, therefore, to make it civilized, to redeem it from this state of self-ignorance that they had now come to make their home. But fortunately, at the same time, there grew the trend among a section of scholars and philosophers from Europe and America to study Hinduism with a fair mind. From the conclusions drawn from the study, a process of exposing the falsehood of missionaries began to take shape. See, – ‘Vedas reveal every aspect of human life such as— culture, religion, moral code, surgery, medicines, music, astronomy, environment and architect etc.’-Sir William Jones. Similar views were held by great thinkers like Arthur Shopenhower, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wilhelm Von Humboldt and others. But since their voices did not come from the particular platform at the particular event of recognition, they could not draw the attention of the world.

To India, the opportunity came on 11 September 1893 when Chicago held the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in which came together the greatest of proponents of different religions the world over in order to present the tenets of their respective religions. This event proved to be one of transforming the views regarding India, its antiquity, its ancestors, and its religion in the eyes of the people inside, as well as, outside the country. By joining the event one that succeeded in doing all by alone this seemingly impossible task, he was none other than Swami Vivekananda. Participating in the religious parliament, Vivekananda saw many missions to fulfil in one place and at once. Actually, this was the time when having studied in Church sponsored mission schools and colleges Indian youths began to feel low about everything concerning ‘self’. These were the youths who were not ready to accept anything unless it was delivered by an Englishman. And, most of all, the declared purpose of the event in Chicago had though been of bringing harmony among different religious faiths. Still, the Christian church was looking at this as an opportunity when once knowing the tenets of Christianity the followers of all the faiths would admit the supremacy of it[Christianity] and grow excited to come under it. (The Parliament of Religions -Mary Louise Burke (Sister Gargi)). For they were of the belief that it was only due to their ignorance of Christianity that the people of the world forgetfully embraced their respective faiths.
Against the backdrop of this when Swamiji attended the religious parliament he had to wait until the last to deliver his speech. But when he began to speak, before the splendour of his discourse composed of all-inclusive Hindu philosophy none could save from its spell. Then 10-12 speeches that he gave in later days they were kept at last only so that the audiences could be made to stay in the auditorium till the end of the programme to hear him. Seeing this many of the Newspapers then filled with his praise. The New York Herald wrote- ‘In religious parliament the greatest personality is Vivekananda. After hearing his discourse all of a sudden, a question raises how foolish the idea is to send religious missionaries to reform such a country of wisdom.’ To the world that had got to be habitual of seeing bloodshed in the name of crusade and jihad the discourse of Vivekananda composed of Gita’s philosophy of religious co-existence and mutual harmony was beyond imagination. “Whoever comes to me- no matter from which of the ways- I get to meet him.” Explaining this message of Gita when Vivekananda said that Hindus not only believe in tolerance but hold every religion true, for the audiences this was something that came to them from an alien world.
Vivekananda went only to attend the Parliament of Religions but the response that he received there made him change his plan of returning to India. In the words of Rashtrkavi Ramdhari  Singh Dinkar-‘Enthused with Religious-parliament, Swamiji continued to stay for three years in Europe and England and spread the essence of Hinduism all over there. It was difficult to convince Hindu intellectuals at home, who were deluded with learning English, but when they saw the men and women of Europe and America themselves being turned the disciples of Swamiji and got to engage in the service of Hindutva, their minds came to sense. Thus, the storm in the form of British education, Christianity and European intellectualism that brewed up to swallow Hindutva went back colliding with Himalaya-like gigantic tree in the form of Vivekananda (‘Sanskriti ke chaar Adhayay’)

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author/s. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Observer Voice.

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